Café Minamdang – K-Drama Episode 1 Recap & Review

The Wonder of Yonghae-dong, Shaman Nam Han-jun

Episode 1 of Café Minamdang begins with fraudster shaman, Nam Han-jun, being escorted through the MK Nobel Hotel as an esteemed guest of the CEO, Lee Min-gyeong.

Eccentric and dapper, Han-jun barges into her interview room after apparently sensing strange energy. Performing a shamanic dance complete with a rattle and fan, he claims that the vengeful spirit of an ex-employee is attached to hotel manager Ko Ju-won. Han-jun proceeds to expose Ju-won for sexually harassing and alienating the ex-employee until she committed suicide.

A crowd gathers outside Café Minamdang the next morning, eagerly awaiting open time. In the building’s living quarters, Han-jun tries to rouse Nam Hye-jun, who is formerly of the National Intelligence Service and also his younger sister.

Working in the café itself is Jo Na-dan, who opens the doors for the day. Customers stream in and admire the barista, Gong Su-cheol, though his allure fades when they hear his heavy dialect as he ushers the newly arrived Kwon Gi-jun to the basement level where Han-jun conducts his business.

Sitting on a raised platform in a throne-like chair, Han-jun immediately declares that Gi-jun cheated on his wife and was then betrayed by his mistress, who ran off with his money.

How does he know this? We flash back to when Hye-jun dug up all she could on Gi-jun, including the fact that his wife is suing him for alimony and his mistress’ Instagram account. Han-jun deduces that the mistress had an accomplice based on her clothing choices and phone records. With those, Hye-jun is then able to obtain a license plate number.

Han-jun gives Su-cheol, who is at that moment chasing down a pervert’s car on foot, the task of tracking the plate. Su-cheol commandeers the pervert’s car and uses it to find the accomplice’s car. It’s in the car park of an apartment building, where Su-cheol sees the mistress and the accomplice getting ready to go overseas.

And so, we arrive back in the present before Han-jun’s throne, where he convinces Gi-jun that he’ll need a talisman to retrieve his money while making the signal for payment. Han-jun gives Gi-jun the talisman along with the address of the accomplice’s apartment building and an instruction to ‘guard the north exit’.

Gi-jun takes police detectives Jang and Kim with him to do just that. Detective Jang is already mystified by the myths growing around Han-jun, his belief deepening when the mistress appears at the exit.

Later at Daeun Police Station, the two detectives wait for a rookie to show. When Han Jae-hui walks in, they assume it’s her and treat her as such. When Hye-jun calls, pretending to be from the Coast Guard with a tip that MK Nobel Hotel’s Ko Ju-won is attempting to flee to China, they even tell Jae-hui to stay behind and clean.

Detective Jang falls behind as he and Detective Kim chase Ju-won through the port. Detective Kim isn’t looking too good either when Jae-hui comes out of nowhere, overtaking them both and singlehandedly taking down the goons that show up to aid Ju-won.

Han-jun, who has been watching through the CCTV with Hye-jun, is starstruck. Evidently, his ideal type is a woman who can protect him.

The sister of the ex-employee that committed suicide thanks Han-jun. He feigns humility and acts as through her late sister brought everything together, not neglecting to remind her about payment.

The detectives head back to the station where their actual rookie, Detective Na, is waiting. Jae-hui uses the moment to introduce herself as Lieutenant Han Jae-hui, their new team leader.

Detective Jang recognises her by her reputation as The Ghost of Yongjin Police Station. One story behind the name goes that she took out the Southeast Asian drug cartel in one day while unarmed, flying through the air like a ghost. Another is that she latches onto a case like a ghost and sees it all the way through. Either way, the team is petrified.

Jae-hui divides her team. Detectives Kim and Na are to reinvestigate the case of Kang Eun-hye, declared a runaway one month ago. She assigns Detective Jang as her own partner.

This prompts Detective Jang to complain to their chief, his chum. The chief, however, has a grand plan. Jae-hui is under the scrutiny of their higher-ups after she blew the whistle at Yongjin Police Station, which resulted in high-profile dismissals and her promotion. This also means she has a target on her back, protected only by public sentiment. The chief wants Detective Jang to observe Jae-hui and find the perfect time to oust her, which could even get Detective Jang back to the Investigation Bureau where he was once a legend.

While rifling through her files that night, Jae-hui comes across a newspaper clipping that reads, ‘Did the judiciary help Choi Yeong-seop get away?’ Another line reveals that an officer was jailed for fabricating evidence. Jae-hui sticks it to her wall and glares at the accompanying image of a cuffed prisoner. Even with his face blurred, it’s obviously Han-jun.

At Café Minamdang, Han-jun gets a call from a chaebol client. She’s worried that her husband, S&H Group’s Vice Chairman, Shin Gyeong-ho, has made trouble again. He’s covered in blood at his study desk, and her fears only increase when his secretary rushes in.

Han-jun hangs up to ‘consult the spirits’, which really means checking the dashcam and CCTV footage that Hye-jun has already hacked into. One of the dashcam feeds has been cut, so they review its saved footage and discover that Gyeong-ho crashed his car into a motorcyclist while on an illicit date. His bright idea was to then shove the body into his boot.

Han-jun, Hye-jun and Su-cheol retrace the path Gyeong-ho took before the footage was cut. Han-jun begins puzzling out Gyeong-ho’s next movements, wondering why he’d be in the area in the first place, when a group of cyclists ride by. Han-jun remembers Gyeong-ho posting pictures of himself cycling and begins scanning their map for a bike track with no foot traffic. He singles out Daeun Memorial Park, where Gyeong-ho’s late mother rests, as a quiet and familiar place with no CCTV.

They race over, determined to arrive before Gyeong-ho’s secretary, and are startled by the moans of the motorcyclist. He is, miraculously, still alive. Calling the police, Han-jun requests that the case be allocated to the Major Crime Division as an attempted murder. This lands it in Jae-hui’s hands.

On her way to the scene, Jae-hui wonders if the Han-jun who called is the Han-jun she knows. Her suspicions are confirmed when she sees him there. She stares, her mind going back to the image of a tender, smiling version of Han-jun.

Much less serious is present Han-jun, who doesn’t recognise her from anywhere but the footage from the port. He also chalks her staring up to her falling in love with him at first sight.

Snapping out of it, Jae-hui wants to know how Han-jun knows that this wasn’t a simple hit and run. In answer, Su-cheol introduces Han-jun as a legendary shaman, hyping him up.

Back at the police station, the missing person case appears to be just that. Jae-hui’s team is also hesitant to consider Gyeong-ho’s case to be anything but a hit-and-run. Detective Jang reminds her of her precarious situation and advises her to lay low for the sake of her team.

That night, Na-dan realises that a trash bag is missing outside Café Minamdang. He alerts the others to the presence of someone called ‘Looney’. The real culprit is Jae-hui, who squats in a nearby alley, digging through their trash to suss Han-jun out.

Na-dan spots her and the Minamdang crew gives chase. After Jae-hui is herded into a dead-end, she makes a pathway up to the rooftops with the almost superhuman grace that she’s famed for. This spooks the Minamdang crew, and they backtrack in a stampede that leaves Han-jun pushed down to the floor.

Not one to back down, he calls up to Jae-hui, who has her back to him, and demands that she come down.

The epilogue shows us Han-jun crying near a pile of charred items, his hand bloody. Somewhere else, Jae-hui rushes onto a crime scene, blood dripping down her face, and lifts the sheet covering a dead body.

The Episode Review

Café Minamdang is KBS2’s new drama, based on Jung Jae-han’s novel, Minamdang Sagun Soochub.

This first episode has a lot going on, from characters to cases – on both sides of the law – but the comedic tone makes it all quite easy to digest. The Minamdang crew has great chemistry, making their unconventional antics even better. The Nam siblings are particularly good together, and their comfortable, squabble-filled relationship is completely believable.

Seo In-guk has impeccable comedic timing, bringing charm to Nam Han-jun’s many peculiarities. I did find Kwak Si-yang’s portrayal of Gong Su-cheol a little excessive and cartoonish, so I’m hoping that he gets more comfortable in the role as we go along.

The action elements are also a little over the top, with slow-mo and exaggerated movements. This is easier to overlook than it would be elsewhere since Café Minamdang obviously isn’t aiming to get anywhere close to gritty realism.

If that epilogue is anything to go by, there’s something of a tragic backstory that will play out as the episodes progress. It will be interesting to see if the smaller cases mentioned here and there tie into it.

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Expect A Full Season Write-Up When This Season Concludes!
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